Air Uke Enthusiasts Descend on Boston for Quiet Riot

BOSTON.  Trey Gooding likes to travel light, a style that he says saves him time rushing between gigs.  “If I can’t carry all my luggage on, sometimes things get lost and anyway I have to stand at the baggage claim, which can take forever,” he says.

“I wanna go back, back, back to my little grass shack . . .”


So last year Gooding, a top-flite air guitarist, switched to air ukelele, the fastest growing segment of the air musical instrument market.  “It’s lighter, and it fits in the overhead compartment with my backpack,” Gooding says.  “I wouldn’t want my ‘axe’ to get damaged in the cargo hold because of air pressure or somebody’s suitcase fell on it.”

Arthur Godfrey


Long derided as a novelty instrument suitable only for Hawaiians or Arthur Godfrey wanna-be’s, the “uke” as aficionados of the undersize stringed instrument refer to it colloquially, has undergone a resurgence of sorts in recent years, fueled by the jazz stylings of Bill Tapia, a grandmaster who lived to 103 and whose repertoire ranged from Duke Ellington to traditional hula songs.  At the younger end of the spectrum, Jake Shimabukuro wows the YouTube generation with lightning-fast fingering and chord changes that have earned him the title “The Jimmy Page of the Ukelele.”

Bill Tapia:  Seriously–you’ve got to hear this guy.


Air uke practitioners say their chosen instrument allows them more freedom than air guitarists, whose tastes run towards heavy metal “shredder” music.  “It’s not just the air guitar, it’s the air amps, which are huge,” says Mike Growell, a former “hair-band” lead guitarist who picked up the air ukelele when he started losing his hearing.  “If you’re a success you can afford air roadies, but if not you have to do the heavy lifting yourself, which can give you an air hernia.”

Jake Shimabukuro


Growell will be one of the headliners at this morning’s opening session of the National Air Ukelele Championships at the Hynes Convention Center, but he says he plans to be in bed early tonight and skip the late-night jam sessions where air uke players test their skills in “cutting contests” against each other.  “I’m too old for that,” he says.  “I’m going to bed early, with an air groupie.”

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